“So, anyone can just go there now, right?” This is the number one question I hear about Cuba, and it makes my eye twitch a little. Technically, you could always have gone to Cuba if you just flew out of a different country, but what many people think is happening now that Obama has opened relations with Cuba, is that you can just hop on a plane and jet over.
That’s not exactly the case.
Although now U.S. citizens can fly to Cuba from the U.S. on a 45 minute flight from Miami to Havana instead of having to sneak in from another country, you must, however, apply for, qualify for, and pay for a specific visa/reason for traveling to Cuba. I have a few sneaky tips for doing this if you don’t already have a reason.
Some of the visa options are; Research, Education Purposes, Humanitarian Work, Support for the Cuban People, Exhibitions, Journalistic Purposes and Family Visit. Chances are you are just going to Cuba because you want to, but you can make your trip qualify for one of those reasons. Also keep in mind that money can get you anywhere…
Oh and DO NOT say ANYTHING about wanting to go for tourism or travel purposes…they made it very clear to me that U.S. citizens are not allowed to go to Cuba for “touristic purposes” and cannot have “free time”. When you decide which visa you’re going to go for, talk with a travel agent at the airline (I got mine through Havana Air) to get it.
“Family Visit Visa”
My cousin Mirtha and I in her backyard that is full of Mango and Banana trees
I was actually able to qualify for “Family Visit” because I really was visiting family in Cuba while I was there. All I had to do was give the travel agent my cousin’s address in Cuba and I was good to go. I’m pretty sure they didn’t even check the address though which makes me think that you could give them any address in Cuba and they’d accept it.
You might be thinking this wouldn’t work because you don’t “look Cuban”…well, my blonde-haired, blue-eyed ass doesn’t exactly fit the profile of a typical Cubana, but I didn’t have any problems, and I even was able to get the editor in chief of the magazine I write for and his partner visas as well!
“Exhibitions” and “Support for the Cuban People” Visa
I saw art, therefore I could have qualified for an Exhibition visa.
Another easy option is “Exhibitions” or “Support for the Cuban People”. Art is a major movement and of high importance in Cuba, so if you find and schedule an art exhibition to go to, that will qualify you for a visa. There’s a really cool new art gallery/nightclub that all the young people go to called Fabrica de Arte that you could technically claim as an art exhibit, and should check out regardless.
You might have to submit an itinerary for these ones, but all you have to do is look up some museums and art galleries, and make a schedule that says when you’re going to them. Many tour companies will try to rob you by insisting that you can only get a visa if you are on a tour that has scheduled things and a tour guide and no free time blah blah blah. That might be technically true, but no one ever asked me anything when I was in Cuba or told me to stop wandering around without a guide or itinerary.
Plus, as mentioned before, you can get anywhere with money…so if you say you are going there to look at and possibly buy art, you’ll probably get approved…and possibly upcharged.
Just hangin’ with the kiddos
Again, like most things in Cuba, you can pretty much do anything if you’re willing to pay for it. If you contact a local charity in Cuba like Fundacion Amistad, they will qualify you for a Humanitarian visa if you make a donation to their charity. It’s a nice thing to do anyway, so I’m definitely all for this option.
They might want you to come see their schools, which you should definitely do, but the donation aspect is much more important to them. You definitely need to be in contact with a charity for this one though, like you can’t just say you want to go there to volunteer, you have to actually prove it.
My typically morning in Cuba, one hour of blogging (that’s all you get for wifi) tea, and a Cuban sandwich that I took the meat out of (and fed to dogs)
Don’t even bother trying to do this option unless you’re like Anthony Bourdain or Conan O’Brien or something. Although I was technically going to Cuba for journalistic purposes (to write the editorial for Geo Chic magazine), it takes 6 weeks to get approved for this visa and requires you to submit your story idea to the government for approval. They are very picky about what is said about Cuba, and when you go there you’ll see why.
Plus, if you really are going to write something, they might try to charge you with permit fees for going places. We got robbed by a production company in Cuba who insisted that we needed production permits and a producer on site to take photos for the editorial, then ended up being perfectly fine when we did some of the shoots without them. Plus I took a million pictures wherever the hell I wanted and had no problems at all.
Sneaking in from Other Countries
Nothing shows how much the Revolution leaders hated the U.S. than the fact that for the last 70 years the only country in the world who couldn’t fly to Cuba was America. Well, except for the fact that you could just go to another country and fly in from there…just as long as it was NOT the U.S.
The only problem with this option is that it takes a lot more time and money than just trying to qualify for one of the visas above. Then again getting to go to two countries instead of just one is definitely a perk! Mexico or Canada is probably your cheapest option if you live in the U.S., but you can pretty much just get a tourist visa for Cuba in any country if you happen to be traveling to one!
Tours are nice if you’re into the whole scheduled touristy sightseeing thing and getting way over-charged. There are TONS of Cuba travel companies because they figured out that it eliminates the whole “everything must be planned and documented” thing. They do however, typically plan your flights, help you get your visa, book your accommodation, and of course make your itinerary, but don’t expect to be able to have any free time or explore non-touristy areas!
Alyssa is a self-made, full time travel blogger who loves adventure and typically travels the world solo. She's been to 53 countries and 6 continents so far, and believes she has mastered the art of chasing waterfalls, traveling solo, wine drinking, and making budget-traveling look good. Curious to know how she started this career? Check out the About section above!